JG Black Book’s very own Managing Director of Africa, Yvette De Vries, recently led a FAM trip in Rwanda and Uganda to experience one of our most fascinating Collection members, Volcanoes Safaris. In this edition of On The Road, Yvette shares her tales of visiting the endangered mountain gorillas, tracking golden monkeys and spending relaxing evenings back at each of the 4 luxury lodges – Bwindi Lodge, Kyambura Gorge Lodge, Mount Gahinga Lodge and Virunga Lodge – where guests gathered and recounted the day’s adventures. Read on to learn about her first-hand experience!
Everything about this trip exceeded my expectations. No matter how much I had heard from others, I could never have imagined just how breathtaking the Virungas would be, how utterly majestic and dignified mountain gorillas are, and how the golden monkeys would enchant me.
By far the most outstanding aspect of my trip however, was the staff along every step of the way. They are all local – most have been with the company for years – and they clearly take pride in being part of the Volcanoes Safaris team. They somehow share an innate kindness and conviviality that’s ideally suited to hosting visitors from anywhere in the world. The same went for our guides and drivers – I just had to admire their grace and composure throughout our journey.
What were your favorite features of the Volcanoes Safaris lodges?
Perhaps because it all began 20 years ago when there was hardly anyone else even contemplating tourism in Rwanda and Uganda, each lodge is in the best location of its area and boasts the most spectacular views of any I have ever seen in Africa. Inside, they have the coziest atmospheres – they feel a bit like ski lodges set within the forests of Africa.
What was the highlight of your stay with Volcanoes Safaris?
Our gorilla trek in Mount Gahinga. The lodge is right next to the park headquarters, the terrain is beautiful and relatively open, and since there is only the one gorilla family to visit, it was overall a far more a relaxed and intimate encounter than I had anticipated.
What was the most significant thing you learned on your trip?
Rwanda & Uganda are both densely populated, and I think I learned more by observing people going about their daily business as we drove from point to point and from questioning our indefatigable driver and guides along the way, than any synthesized “village visit”.
What was your favorite local activity?
My favorite local activities always seem to involve food! Besides all the delicious dishes and fun meal times at the lodges, I particularly enjoyed lunch at Republika Restaurant in Kigali and having drinks at the Bwindi Bar.
What set this trip apart from your previous experiences in Africa?
Besides the fact that trekking is less sedentary than the typical safari, the gorillas themselves, of course. The massive hulks of the mature Silverbacks were very imposing, but I was thrilled that there were babies in each of the families I saw. All baby animals are captivating, but the baby mountain gorillas are truly something else!
What advice would you give to someone looking to book a trip with Volcanoes Safaris?
I have a few insider tips that I think would be useful for anyone who is planning a stay with Volcanoes Safaris.
- In my experience, the golden monkey trekking was easier in Virunga than Gahinga, and the gorilla trekking was easier in Gahinga than Bwindi, but there is really very little one can do to influence which gorilla family you are assigned to. So go with an open mind and be prepared for some slipping, sliding and scrambling at times.
- Read “Into the Virungas” before you go.
- It really matters to have the right footwear. For me a pair of neoprene boots were more valuable than hiking shoes.
- Pay the minimal fee for a porter in the forests. Besides carrying one’s essentials like water, rain gear and gloves, they are indispensable when it comes to navigating tough terrain & dense foliage.
- Don’t forget to breathe, take it easy, and trust your guides and porters to get you there. It really is the thrill of a lifetime!